Over the years I have seen a distinct pattern forming concerning the bands that I like and the gigs that I really enjoy. Give me a room with a couple of hundred people and the ability to see the whites of the singer’s eyes up close, over your stadium extravaganzas any day. But as with Dutch Uncles who we covered a few weeks ago I am flabbergasted that The Twilight Sad are not absolutely huge and selling out bigger venues than the compact and bijou Academy 3.
As I write this review in my usual tardy manner the spectacle of the BBC Music Awards is taking place at the same time as The Twilight Sad will be leaving yet another audience (this time in Manchester) emotional, energised and gagging for more. The comparison could not be more stark. There’s nothing wrong with the BBC awards but they say a lot about what is wrong with the music industry: banal, mundane, safe, predictable, contrived, and nice; describing the stock in trade of multi-millionaire Svengalis who control the glass ceiling to success in 2015. For me this stuff is easy to describe.
In comparison, one of the problems with this reviewing game is the paucity of meaningful adjectives in the English language to describe what you see, hear and feel during a performance by The Twilight Sad , and in particular by their frontman James Graham. You need to go back to the original meaning of the words. Thrilling; there’s one. When they start to play I Became A Prostitute or There’s a Girl In The Corner and the hairs rise on the back of your neck, and you feel vague chills in spite of the heat. I often wonder if I’m a sad old Bugger to react like this until I look at other people around me and the reactions are the same.
Invigoration; there’s another. They manage to energise everyone at the same time as delivering some of the most dour and morose fare. Evidence the big bloke next to me who nearly killed himself leaping around and bellowing every word and every line. He had to retire to the back a few songs before the end.
But the hardest thing to describe is the phenomenon of unintentional charisma, almost an aura. James has that in spades. He creates a connection with the audience that is almost a subconscious one yet the emotion that is transferred between him and the crowd is entirely tangible. He doesn’t seem to know it and still seems surprised that people come out to see The Twilight Sad. The reality is that whilst the band as a whole is top notch, a lot of people come to see him and concentrate on him.
With him every gig seems to require a huge emotional outpouring. It’s not anger because the songs aren’t angry, although he does seem to be raging against something. The intensity pours over the barrier in waves and envelops the crowd.
Reading this back it doesn’t do him justice really, so all I can suggest is that you take the opportunity to go and see the band for yourselves.
Another outfit worth experiencing is support band for the night Man Of Moon. Since White Stripes, the modus operandum of your average guitar or bass plus drums outfit has been to offer a serving of bang crash served up with a generous slice of wham bam and a side order of shouting. In contrast the Edinburgh-based duo are all about creating space in the music. Yes they have to fill the room with sound, but they do so in a subtle way rather than taking a sledgehammer to your ears. It may seem a bit clichéd but you can almost hear the drone of a set of pipes in the distance, underpinning their songs. They are also exponents of the sudden ending which flummoxed the crowd for a while. Always a tricky one that: to clap or not to clap.
The Twilight Sad embarked on this tour after a successful support slot with Editors. Maybe this is a sign that things are changing for them. There were other signs too. I have seen this band a lot over the years and the usual crowd seemed to be the old-ish embittered 1980s Indie crowd of who I am a fully paid up member. Tonight there were many younger people and one particular group of young women down at the front, some of whom were from the West Coast of the USA and had been following the band throughout the tour. Perhaps these support slots are giving the band the exposure and limelight that they deserve.
Supporting The Cure on their World Tour in 2016 should provide another opportunity for The Twilight Sad to break through the strange glass ceiling that seems porous to any number of Brit School no-marks but hermetically sealed for numerous bands like them who are of real quality and talent; and those are definitely two appropriate words on which to end.
Review: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge